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Senator Joseph Lieberman Formally Joins Gore Ticket

By Jonathan Weisman
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- NASHVILLE

Vice President Al Gore Tuesday formally named Joseph I. Lieberman his running mate, proclaiming that the Connecticut senator’s nomination at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles will “make real the great ideal that we are one country, with a common destiny.”

Under a blazing Tennessee sun, before an enthusiastic, placard-waving crowd at Nashville’s War Memorial, Lieberman, 58, accepted with pride, prayer and a speech filled with exaltations of family and faith.

Lieberman, the first Jewish person to secure a place on a major party ticket, also took a few swipes at the Democrats’ rivals for the White House, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Lieberman’s speech signaled that the Democrats would contest their Republican opponents for the moral high ground that Bush believes will win him the presidency.

The senator’s remarks were saturated with religion as he sought to project his own reputation for integrity onto Gore, a reputation grounded in his denunciations of sex and violence in popular culture and cemented in 1998 by his stinging condemnation of President Clinton’s behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The senator vowed that he and Gore would “help renew the moral center of this nation.”

Far from downplaying his Judaism, Lieberman pushed his religion front and center, praising Gore for the “chutzpah” -- a Yiddish word for audacity -- that he showed by breaking down an historic barrier.

The selection “shows Al’s faith in the tolerance of this diverse nation, in the basic fairness of the American people,” Lieberman said. “And I want to say to the people of America, Al Gore trusts you, which is one good reason for you to place your trust in him.”

Bush Tuesday moved to blunt any resurgence Gore might enjoy as a result of his selection of Lieberman. The governor tried to use Lieberman’s centrist voting record and reputation for moral probity against the vice president, saying he respected Lieberman’s convictions, strong faith and record on Social Security, missile defense and education.

“This selection now presents the vice president with an interesting test of whether he will continue attacking positions his running mate shares or whether he will lift up our nation by elevating the tone of his presidential campaign,” Bush said.

A Gore campaign that has lagged behind Bush’s in the polls and languished for much of the summer appeared newly confident Tuesday. A quick, overnight Gallup poll, taken for CNN and USA Today, showed Gore virtually erasing Bush’s significant lead. That poll, however, surveyed registered voters, as opposed to likely voters, who were questioned in the polls that showed far wider leads.

And Gore Tuesday secured the long-sought endorsement of the United Auto Workers, who along with the Teamsters have withheld their support for months.

Lieberman and Gore laughed together on the podium, hugged and even exchanged high-fives after the senator repeated a line employed successfully in 1988 by then GOP presidential candidate George Bush: “If you have to change horses in midstream, doesn’t it make sense to get on the one that’s going in the right direction.”

Just as Bush has signaled he would fight for the presidency on traditionally Democratic issues, like Social Security and education, Gore, Lieberman and their wives, Tipper and Hadassah, fired back that they would not cede to the GOP its traditional advantage on the issues of religion and values. And they sought to reclaim some of the ground that Bush has tried to seize, appealing to the same immigrants that the Texas governor has assiduously courted.

Tipper Gore spoke emotionally of Hadassah Lieberman’s mother, who survived the Nazi death camps of Dachau and Auschwitz, and her father, who organized an escape from a Nazi labor camp, then turned his attention to caring for Jewish orphans after World War II.

“This country is our country,” Hadassah Lieberman proclaimed. “This land is your land, and anything is possible for us.”

In a response to the Bush campaign’s assertion that Lieberman’s centrist politics have more in common with Bush’s than Gore’s, the senator deadpanned: “With all due respect, I think that’s like saying that the veterinarian and the taxidermist are in the same business, because either way, you get your dog back.”